Research Into Action

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Last year one-third of the evidence-based programs* offered by CJE’s Center for Healthy Living (CHL) helped participants learn how to reduce falls, according to Gerri Fiterman Persin, Director of CJE’s Center for Healthy Living and Volunteers. So with dozens of CJE classes and sessions to choose from, including the most popular Matter of Balance, how did CHL know to offer more fall-prevention related sessions as part of CJE’s diversified program options for older adults?

The answer: Staff looked at the data collected from past participants of community evidence-based programs in tandem with the results of a CJE Population Health Study. Armed with this data that reported 49% of CJE’s clients limit their activity due to a fear of falling, the CHL added more fall-related programs knowing they would be well attended.

This is just one example of how the CHL has been collaborating closely with CJE’s Leonard Schanfield Research Institute (LSRI) to obtain and analyze data to determine what programs older adults want and need.

As a first step, Amy Eisenstein, Ph.D., Director of the LSRI, has been working closely with the CHL to help design standardized data collection tools in order to determine reliable outcomes for CHL programs. This includes the development of universal questions and refinement of participant enrollment forms. As a result, the CHL now has access to its own comprehensive database that can be analyzed more efficiently and used to help predict what programs will be most effective at improving the health of CJE’s current and future client base.

What many people do not realize is that CJE is one of the few social service agencies in the country that has the benefit of an in-house research department and that the LSRI has a long history of implementing programs 5based on the evidence gleaned from its research projects. LSRI’s work is even more important now that there is less funding to support the development of innovative programs, especially those that focus on an older adult population.

When Eisenstein joined CJE in 2015, she developed the Population Health Study (PHS) to “know more about the clients that CJE serves, their health needs, the gaps in services and what programs could be most beneficial to our client population.” Thanks to a generous grant by the Michael Reese Health Trust, the PHS was launched and a team of interviewers surveyed 411 individuals via a detailed questionnaire that asked questions about chronic health conditions, quality of life and exercise. The results produced an accurate snapshot of the CJE client and were also useful for comparison to national data sets (see Infographic).

For Eisenstein, an interesting finding from this study was learning that clients considered mobility, general health and access to medical care as important factors of their quality of life. “This information helps CJE plan relevant programming, but it can also help explain our clients’ high rates of ER visits, high use of medication and very low functional ability levels compared to the national population.”

Eisenstein says: “We now know more about the needs of the population we serve, and we can tailor our offerings to those needs.” And accordingly, Fiterman Persin concurs, “The PHS helps us to engage and encourage our clients to participate in specific classes because we now know more about their needs.”

The Gauging Health Study, funded by Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, also proved to be a wealth of information. In this research endeavor, data was collected through interviews with key stakeholders and focus groups made up of older adults in specific zip codes on Chicago’s North Side. The purpose was to document older adults’ preferences and expectations for life enrichment programming, including the desirable attributes of programs, potential barriers to their use and willingness to pay.

Besides specifics about their interests and perceived gaps in programming (see Infographic), Eisenstein said that the results showed that people are looking for meaningful roles and volunteer opportunities. “They want to be active members, engaged and involved in the process of deciding what activities they are going to do.” Eisenstein pointed out that these attitudes are different from those of previous generations.

In follow up to the study, Fiterman Persin is working with stakeholders from partner agencies to form an Advisory Council of older adults who can determine what types of programs would work best in that area of Chicago. This group could then help plan the programming, thus getting members’ buy-in for the plans. She says “We’ve been doing a lot of programming for people, but we need to flip the model a bit and get the thoughts and views of participants.”

Looking toward the future, Eisenstein would like to continue the push to evaluate more of CJE’s emerging programs and analyze the benefits for our clients. From learning more about the current health concerns of our clients to understanding better what older adults really want, it’s clear that research can inform and impact the success of CJE’s programming endeavors.